Fes­ti­val de­mand soars for fake friends

China Daily European Weekly - - China News - By ZHOU WENTING and PAN YIXUAN

Bian Yong is avail­able for rent this Spring Fes­ti­val.

Tired of be­ing pestered by rel­a­tives for still be­ing sin­gle, he has placed an on­line ad of­fer­ing to pose as a fake boyfriend for a low fee, mainly out of cu­rios­ity and in the hope of help­ing some­one else in the same sit­u­a­tion.

“I’m a vic­tim of my par­ents’ dis­sat­is­fac­tion,” says the 32-year-old, who works in Shang­hai and usu­ally re­turns to his home­town in ru­ral An­hui prov­ince for the hol­i­day. “In­stead of en­dur­ing more nag­ging, I’d rather pre­tend to be a woman’s boyfriend to ease the pres­sure on her.”

Bian up­loaded his ad to 20py.com, one of about five web­sites that have popped up in re­cent years to cater to the grow­ing trend of peo­ple tak­ing fake part­ners — of­ten to­tal strangers — to fam­ily re­unions.

Busi­ness for such web­sites has been boom­ing ahead of Spring Fes­ti­val.

“For the month lead­ing up to Chi­nese New Year, we’ve han­dled more than 1,200 con­nec­tions. Nor­mally, it’s about 100 a month,” says Wang Jian­hua, a spokesman for Zun­vyou, a web­site based in Shen­zhen, Guang­dong prov­ince. (The name means “rent a girl­friend”.)

Prices soar at this time, too. “It costs about 1,000 yuan ($145; 135 eu­ros; £116) a day right now, com­pared with about 600 yuan on av­er­age,” Wang says, and that doesn’t in­clude trans­porta­tion and meals.

De­mand is so high that such web­sites, which first be­gan to emerge in 2014, make as much at Spring Fes­ti­val as they do dur­ing the rest of the year com­bined.

To post an ad, users must reg­is­ter with their per­sonal in­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing age, oc­cu­pa­tion and height, and up­load a head­shot.

Clients can list spe­cial re­quire­ments. They are re­quired to pay a de­posit — usu­ally half the rental price — and must submit proof of iden­tity and em­ploy­ment. Plat­forms charge a ser­vice fee of 10 to 20 per­cent.

Wang says most of Zun­vyou’s clients work in large cities but come from smaller cities or ru­ral ar­eas, where peo­ple are gen­er­ally ex­pected to be mar­ried by their mid-20s.

20py.com, based in Hangzhou, Zhe­jiang prov­ince, has more than 3 mil­lion reg­is­tered mem­bers. The ra­tio of men to women is 10:1.

Such a gen­der im­bal­ance is com­mon, which Wang put down to women hav­ing more safety con­cerns. He says Zun­vyou and other sites have in­tro­duced mea­sures to pre­vent po­ten­tial threats to per­sonal safety and prop­erty.

“We make clients meet first in a pub­lic venue and send their lo­ca­tion to our em­ploy­ees when they take a ‘part­ner’ to their home­town,” he says. “We also en­cour­age them to keep their cell­phones switched on at all times in case of emer­gency.”

While some of­fer them­selves up for rent as a way to make money, Bian says he is charg­ing only 200 yuan a day. Con­tact the writ­ers through zhouwent­ing@chi­nadaily.com.cn.

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